Answering some reader questions about the Mariners' postseason hopes, the health of the starting rotation and a contract extension for James Paxton.
NEW YORK — Instead of cobbling together an off-day story when the most pressing news surrounding the Mariners is the health status of second baseman Robinson Cano (hamstring tightness) and outfielder Guillermo Heredia (right wrist/forearm contusion), which was still unknown Thursday, it was time to try something new.
A reader mailbag isn’t exactly a groundbreaking format, but it’s something new to the Times’ Mariners coverage.
So here are answers to questions submitted via Twitter:
From Tyler Stobbe (@StarcraftSquall)
How REALISTIC are the M’s postseason chances? Or is this all smoke and mirrors again?
It depends on whether you think math is more important than 1) What we have seen from the Mariners; and 2) Their starting pitching. Seattle is 65-63 and a game out of the second AL wild-card spot with 34 games remaining. That alone says it’s possible. Three major websites run updated postseason probability models. As of Thursday, Fangraphs put the Mariners’ postseason probability at 14.7 percent, while 538.com has them at 13 percent and Baseball Prospectus had them at 9.1 percent.
To quote Lloyd Christmas in “Dumb and Dumber” … “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”
Sure, there’s a chance. As manager Scott Servais pointed out the other day, all of the teams in this race are flawed.
“I said it in May when we were kind of down and out, that if we could somehow be around .500 at the first September we will still be in this,” he said. “Every team has its deficiencies. Every team has the ability to win five or six in a row and also lose six or seven in a row. There are a lot of teams that are very evenly matched. They’ve got their things they do very well. It will come down to who plays the best in the last couple weeks of the season. There is no doubt about that.”
From a schedule standpoint, it’s not as easy for the Mariners compared with other contenders. Brett Miller, a Times news assistant and self-proclaimed baseball nerd, examined the remaining schedules of the wild-card teams, looking at strengths and weaknesses. As of Thursday, Seattle had the most difficult schedule in most aspects.
Here are the combined records of the teams’ remaining opponents:
- Mariners: 459-424 (.520)
- Orioles: 458-427 (.517)
- Rangers: 386-372 (.509)
- Rays: 573-558 (.506)
- Royals: 504-503 (.501)
- Angels: 378-379 (.499)
- Twins: 482-526 (.478)
Here are how many games each team is playing against teams at or over .500 and below .500.
- Mariners: 9 vs. teams under .500/ 25 vs. over .500
- Angels: 10 vs. under .500/ 25 vs. over .500
- Rays: 11 vs. under .500/ 23 vs. over .500
- Rangers: 13 vs. under .500/ 23 vs. over .500
- Royals: 15 vs. under .500/ 19 vs. over .500
- Orioles: 16 vs. under .500/ 19 vs. over .500
- Twins: 23 vs. under .500/ 13 vs. over .500
Beyond numbers and records, the Mariners’ starting rotation is still a mess. The team will live and die by an offense that needs to score at least four runs per game to have a chance. The Mariners are 5-44 when they score three runs or fewer this season and 55-19 when scoring four runs or more. Is it smoke and mirrors? Is it hopes and prayers? For the Mariners have a chance, it’s going to be runs and bullpen.
From Jason Kline (@jaskline2007)
What are the chances we see a healthy Paxton, Felix and Kuma in the rotation at the same time by the end of the season?
The usual smart-aleck answer to all questions referencing odds or chances is 50-50. Why? Because, well, most things in life are 50-50. It’s like someone being day to day. We are all day to day. But the odds of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma being in the starting rotation at the same time in the next six weeks falls somewhere between “yeah, right” and “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Let’s look at the timetable. Iwakuma, who has been out since May 6 because of shoulder inflammation, is the closest to returning based on his current throwing program.
And yet within the Mariners organization, the expectation of Iwakuma returning has been non-existent since he suffered a setback during his rehabilitation stint in July. Since then he’s suffered two minor setbacks in his throwing program while trying a number of different methods to aid his recovery.
Iwakuma is throwing bullpen sessions. He would have to graduate to another simulated game and then have at least two or three gradually increased rehab outings to generate enough arm strength to return. Then there is the added problem of the minor-league season ending by Sept. 1. Iwakuma could still generate those innings in Arizona in extended spring training.
With his option for the 2018 season not vesting due to lack of innings, it’s not unfair to think Iwakuma, 36, may never throw another regular-season pitch in a Mariners uniform.
Both Paxton (strained pectoral muscle) and Hernandez (shoulder bursitis) have begun playing catch as part of a throwing program. Like all programs, they will extend in distance to long toss before finally getting on the mound for bullpen session. Usually it takes at least two to three bullpen sessions, a simulated game and at least one, if not two, rehab starts or extended simulated games. Even on an optimistic and accelerated expectation that’s at least three weeks before a return.
It’s more than unlikely that all three will be in the rotation again this season. The Mariners might have to settle for just one returning.
From UserHandle (@user_handle)
Even though he’s a Boras client, can we expect a strong effort in extending James Paxton during his arbitration years?
For those unaware, mega-agent Scott Boras represents Paxton. And in most cases, Boras isn’t a fan of players signing extensions because their value is higher on the free-agent market where all 30 teams can be in play.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Jered Weaver signed an extension with the Angels for five years and $85 million in 2011, and more recently Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million extension with the Nationals.
Paxton is in his first year of arbitration eligibility, earning $2.35 million. As a Super-2 qualifier, he has three more years of arbitration eligibility remaining before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.
As evidenced by the abysmal free-agent pitching market the last few years, more teams have locked up young, talented starting pitching to contract extensions that buy out the arbitration years and extend into projected free agency. The Mariners made a similar move with position players Kyle Seager and Jean Segura.
Two questions arise: Would the Mariners want to do it? And would Paxton be willing to sign?
The answer to the first should be without hesitation — yes. Sure, Paxton has had injury issues throughout his career. He’s never made more than 20 big-league starts in a season. Last year he was ostensibly healthy all season until taking a line drive off the biceps that forced him to the disabled list — a fluke injury. In the midst of his best season in the big leagues, he’s been to the disabled list twice this season. And yet the Mariners should explore an extension.
There is little chance of acquiring anyone as talented as Paxton via trade or on the free-agent market. When he is healthy and right, he’s one of the most dominant starters in baseball, and he has improved with each season. Also, take a glance through the Mariners’ farm system and you’ll find that there are few power starting arms and no one that even comes close to projecting to Paxton’s ability.
Seattle’s top pitching prospect Nick Neidert is more of a pitch-ability starter with a fastball that sits in the low 90s. Think about a light version of Sonny Gray. Opposing scouts project him as a No.3 starter. Andrew Moore and Marco Gonzales essentially are copies of each other that throw with different arms and are considered Nos. 4-5 starters. Right-hander Sam Carlson, the Mariners’ second-round pick in this year’s draft, probably represents one of the best overall starting arms in the organization, and he’s years from helping.
But would Paxton sign an extension?
Given his injury history, some financial stability is a draw. But he’s still going to make around $30 million over the next three years via arbitration increases. Though he’s from British Columbia, he’s also not married to the Northwest. He played college baseball at Kentucky. So the notion of him taking a discount to remain in Seattle doesn’t seem likely. Once asked about it, Paxton said he just wanted to be “treated fairly.”
A fair offer won’t be cheap, but it can be back-loaded to offset the money owed to Hernandez the next two seasons. Would five years for a total of $70 million be enough? An extension for Paxton has been discussed, and it should be explored in the offseason.
From Taylor Dreke (@TjD1534)
Any chance the M’s trade for another starting pitcher?
Jerry Dipoto is the general manager, so there’s always a possibility for a trade. You can imagine a whiteboard in his office that reads — “You have not made a trade in ____ days.”
The guy never stops working the phones, looking for unexpected contributors or trying to find value in players that other organizations don’t. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be making a run at Justin Verlander and the remainder of his gargantuan contract. The waiver trade deadline is Aug. 31 so he has about six days to add to the roster. Because of how waiver trades work and the secrecy of claims, it’s difficult to know just what is available.
And obviously the quality of that pitcher must be weighed against what is owed on the contract, and the cost of any prospects given up. The Mariners don’t have much in the way of mid-tier prospects that might make waiver trades work.
Fans see the short term, which is obviously important, because there is no guarantee the Mariners will be in this position next season or beyond. But Dipoto must also be pragmatic. Is any pitcher he could acquire better than what he has now, and would he be worth the money to pay him and the potential prospect lost to get him?